As we approach one year since COVID-19 arrived in Rhode Island, 12 News is bringing you special reports all this week at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. They’re stories of heartache, heroes and hope.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The year 2020 — marked by heartache, loneliness, helplessness, but also signs of kindness when we least expected it, and now, glimmers of hope.
December 2019 is when the world changed, the first case of the coronavirus was detected in what would soon be known as the origin of the pandemic: Wuhan, China.
“If the virus turns out to be readily transmissible from human to human, then we’ll have a much larger problem,” Dr. William Schaffner, Infectious Disease Specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said.
With the start of 2020 came the first U.S. case in Washington State, and by the end of January, COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency. At this time locally, it seemed like a distant issue.
Though on February 1, Massachusetts declared its first case, and on March 1, Rhode Island announced its first.
“We discovered what we believe is the first case of coronavirus here in the state of RI,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said.
A staff member at St. Ray’s Academy contracted the virus in Italy where the virus was quickly spreading.
By March 17, visitors were banned from nursing homes in Rhode Island, restaurants shifted to take out only.
Schools in Massachusetts closed for what was supposed to be just for three weeks, and on March 20, Rhode Island shut down in-person learning for two weeks after moving up Spring Break the week before.
Weddings were canceled, toilet paper and hand sanitizer were in short supply, then on March 27, R.I. State Police began stopping drivers coming into the state from New York.
“Knock it off” became a well-known phrase in Raimondo’s daily coronavirus briefings as Rhode Island reported its first two deaths from the virus on March 28.
Masks were required for most workers to wear in Rhode Island starting April 16. Despite President Donald Trump’s goal of reopening the country by Easter, the reality in Rhode Island was much different.
By the end of April, Rhode Island was reaching its peak in cases and walk-up and drive-thru testing sites were becoming more readily available. Across the country, cases were spreading in processing plants causing a meat shortage.
Then a bit of hope in the form of nicer weather, by mid-May, state parks reopened, as did restaurants with restrictions, and McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket turned into an outdoor dining experience.
“We have gone above and beyond to make our kids safe,” R.I. Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green said.
Fall semester meant some type of in-person learning for most districts and colleges as Rhode Island led the nation at the time in testing per capita.
Then around Halloween, indoor gatherings proved to be spreaders. In anticipation of a Thanksgiving surge, Rhode Island entered what was supposed to be a two-week pause on November 30, but turned into three weeks.
As December arrived, so did patients at the state’s two field hospitals. Though December 14 brought some hope, the state’s first COVID-19 vaccine kicking off an effort to vaccinate thousands in healthcare and nursing homes by year’s end.